May 16, 2016
This is it then. Nathan Drake’s final adventure. The last time our wise-cracking hero will don his leather shoulder holster, leap from a crumbling platform, gun down an entire army of bad dudes and accidentally destroy a lost ancient city. He’s gonna be missed.
The Uncharted series has always been thrilling, spectacular, funny and human. But with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, the fourth main outing for Nate and the gang, Naughty Dog has injected just the right amount of sentimentality and nostalgia. We know it’s Nate’s final outing, Naughty Dog knows it’s Nate’s final outing, but most importantly Nate knows it too. It adds a degree of bittersweet melancholy to every jump, gunshot and death defying leap.
After a high octane, cliffhanger opening, our story begins proper with Nate in his new domestic circumstances. He has a legit job now, and a home with his wife Elena. He’s left behind the treasure hunting to enjoy married life and while he’s mostly happy with his lot, something’s missing. Nate yearns for the old days, reliving his adventures in his attic, surrounded by the trinkets of his former life. He’s unfulfilled.
It’s not long before an opportunity presents itself for Nate to spring back into action, but it’s not something he grabs with both hands. Conflicted, he reluctantly agrees to set off for one last job. From just about any other developer, his motivation would have felt contrived. Naughty Dog makes sure we feel he has no choice.
Of course, when Nate gets back into the thick of it, he loves it. As do we. Uncharted 4 contains some of the most spectacular action sequences ever to grace a video game. The Jeep chase section shown on stage at E3 2015? That’s one of the highlights. The full scene goes on for about 15 minutes and it’s far better than it looked at the time (it looked amazing). Utterly thrilling throughout, the sequence is a fantastically choreographed dance of explosions, gunfire, revving engines and heroic quips. There’s loads more where that came from too.
From the countless, breathless platforming sections set against jaw-dropping backdrops, to the shoot-outs on pirate islands, backwater prisons and celtic heathlands, there’s a surfeit of unforgettable set pieces and eye-scorchingly gorgeous locations. One sequence later on combines platforming, stealth, action and even a bit of swimming in a brilliantly tense combination of everything that’s good about the series. It’s Uncharted at its best: high adventure, wonderful visuals, chaotic action and Hollywood-esque spectacle.
The quiet moments manage to impress equally. For a chunk of the game, Uncharted 4 becomes the most lavishly produced walking simulator ever - Gone Home: The Brothers Drake Edition. And if that doesn’t sound like your thing don’t worry, it’s amazing. It’s not set in an exotic locale, no shots are fired, there’s no death defying gymnastics, but it’s arguably the most important section in the entire series; funny, touching, revealing and just so brilliantly executed. Right now I feel there’s nothing Naughty Dog can’t do.
Well maybe there are one or two things. In an attempt to make sure you’re always in the right place at the right time, Naughty Dog too often (like, maybe two or three times) wrestles control away from the player when it shouldn’t, spoiling the flow. The gunplay is still not best in class. And the stealth, which takes far more prominence than it has before, still isn’t the developer’s strong suit. Improvements have been made, particularly to the latter, but if you’re going to identify weak points, that’s where you’d do it.
Yet for every shortcoming I can find an excuse. Naughty Dog needs to take over occasionally in order to deliver its peerless story. And in truth the player is afforded more control than usual thanks to the game’s large, open environments - a far cry from the beautifully dressed corridors of previous Uncharted games. The gunplay is not best in class because Nate isn’t a marksman, he’s an adventurer. And the stealth? Well, it’s fine really, I’ve just never been a fan of it. Most of my attempts quickly go tits up and devolve into gun blasting chaos anyway. It doesn’t really matter.
Let me be plain: in so many ways Uncharted 4 is unmatched. Its story, dialogue, voice acting, mo-cap and facial animation, visuals and spectacular action sequences - you just won’t find any better elsewhere. Every one of these elements is either the best in the history of video games, or pretty damn close. That sounds dumb written out in black and white. Maybe I’ll regret it in the future. But it’s genuinely how I feel right now, minutes after watching the final credits roll. So while I can nitpick, I don’t really want to.
Even the multiplayer is ace. Fast and fun and far better than it has any right to be, you could have forgiven Naughty Dog for tacking on a mediocre suit of modes and leaving it at that. But nope, instead they’ve made an entertaining (but not particularly inventive) online experience that I anticipate putting a lot of hours into. With the exception of Sidekicks (annoying AI helpers with too much health, conjured by players for skilless kills), I love it.
That I can only dedicate a single, brief, info-light paragraph of this review to one of the most enjoyable multiplayer experiences so far this year is, of course, testament to the strength of the single-player. It’s just so good. Tonally different from its predecessors, Uncharted 4 is more mature, more affecting and occasionally more brutal than what went before. Yet it still delivers the high adventure, wise-cracks and spectacle we’ve all come to love. What a game, man. What a game.
By the end, I may have gotten a little misty-eyed that it's all over. That’s how good this game is, how well it tells its story and wraps up almost a decade of the series. With Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog has created the best send-off imaginable.
Has there ever been better voice acting in a video game? I’m struggling to think of an example. This is peerless stuff, backed up by Henry Jackman’s brilliant score.
I can’t find anything wrong with them. I tried, I really did. But I can’t justify giving Uncharted 4’s visuals anything but the maximum score. It’s a phenomenally attractive game.
I’m not a massive fan of Uncharted 4’s stealth, but there’s no denying that the game’s combination of breathtaking platforming, fun little puzzles and spectacular shoot-outs is heady stuff. Super fun.
A fantastic single-player story that will take around 15 hours to beat, and a super solid multiplayer that will gobble up hours of your time - you couldn’t ask for much more.
It’s an Uncharted list, which for the most part are kind of dull. However, the handful of creative trophies on this list are completely brilliant. Stage Fright alone deserves an award.
A brilliant send off for a brilliant series, Naughty Dog has ensured that Uncharted and Nathan Drake go out on a high. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is utterly essential.